UPDATE: As reported on ESPN.com, Triple Crown Hopeful I'll Have Another has been scratched from the Belmont Stakes and retired with a tendon injury.
This Saturday, the 144th running of the Belmont Stakes was supposed to mark the 32nd time in American horse racing history that a horse was going for the Triple Crown.
After the unfortunate event today, the drought without a Triple Crown winner now has officially reached 34 years since Affirmed last won it in 1978.
The race, now with 11 contenders, shouldn't suffer much in terms of who should be the favorites as Dullahan is now the favorite (9-5), with Union Rags (3-1) and Paynter (7-2) closely following him.
Street Life, Atigun, My Adonis, Optimizer and Unstoppable U look like they are a tier below in class to the four favorites. These horses would need to exceed their career best and the favorites to fall off on their performance for them to win.
Five Sixteen, Ravelo's Boy and Guyana Star Dweej simply are not in the same class as the ones above, much less comparable with the elite three in the race.
But this is the Belmont Stakes, the "Test of a Champion" and anything can happen. It's run at 1.5 miles, which is an unknown for all the horses in this race and a big question mark on whether they can handle it or not.
And it's run at the massive race track with wide sweeping turns that is Belmont Park, the biggest in America. A track that, for the jockeys who are not familiar with it, can turn into a nightmare—especially the ones going for the Triple Crown.
History has shown that to be almost the norm rather than the exception.
This year the race presents itself, like every year, as one where jockey's strategy will be essential to the race development.
I expect Unstoppable U, who is the fastest horse in the race, to take full advantage of post position No. 2 and go for the lead right away. The colt is just making his third career start, and his best chance would be to attempt to wire the field.
From the far outside we have Paynter (No. 9) and My Adonis (No. 12), who are the next speediest horses and should be on the second pack behind Unstoppable U.
Right behind them Union Rags, Dullahan, Ravelo's Boy, Five Sixteen and Guyana Star Dweej should follow with Street Life, Optimizer and Atigun the trailers.
In the middle of the back stretch I expect Smith and Dominguez to start moving Paynter and My Adonis to the front and look to challenge Unstoppable U, while Velazquez should place Union Rags on the clear in fourth place just behind the leaders.
Midway through the long far turn, Paynter and My Adonis should take first and second place with Union Rags starting to make his move from fourth followed a couple of lengths behind by Dullahan starting his move from fifth followed by Street Life and Atigun.
Once they hit the home stretch, Paynter should be in front in the clear and I expect Velazquez to have moved Union Rags into second and Dullahan moving in from third.
Union Rags will then catch Paynter on the stretch and move ahead to then hold off Dullahan's late surge to win and be the one wearing the Carnation Blanket in the winner's circle.
Dullahan is maybe in the best shape of any horse in the field, but I think he needs a little more pace on this race to have a better chance, and that is not likely to happen. If for any reason they burn the fractionals up front, I would expect him to win it.
Predicted Top Five Finishers
1. Union Rags
5. Street Life